Content about the Green Bay Packers powered by Annex Wealth ManagementFull Bio


NFL Draft Preview: Deep class of linebackers awaits Green Bay

Our fifth look at the 2020 NFL Draft as it relates to the Green Bay Packers takes a look at the linebacker positions, which is a tricky preview because in the Packers' defense, linebacker is a fluid position and requires some of the greatest versatility of any spot on the field in Green Bay's defensive alignment. We also look at the edge rushers available this year, although the Packers have invested heavily in free agency (and with their top selection in last year's Draft) at the position.

In every Draft since 2011, at least one pick, and in several years, multiple selections have been made to address the positions, whether it's along the edge or manning the middle. In 2019, two were picked: Rashan Gary along the edge at #12 overall and Ty Summers as a 7th-round selection at inside linebacker, who played in all 16 games (primarily on special teams). The 2018 Draft was the reverse of that, with Green Bay spending a higher pick (#88 overall) on the inside spot, Oren Burks, while chipping one of the last picks of the Draft towards edge rusher, Kendall Donnerson, who is no longer with the team. Both of 2016's selections, Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell, as well as 2017's pick, Vince Biegel, are playing elsewhere in 2020. So the depth chart at the moment at inside linebacker is Burks, Summers, and free agent signing Christian Kirksey, while at edge rusher, it's last year's big free-agent signings, Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, along with Rashan Gary. Filling out the position are practice squad players Tim Williams and Randy Ramsey, as well as a pair of 2019 undrafted rookie free agent signings, Greg Roberts and Curtis Bolton.

Here's the Packers' Draft order as of today:

NFL Draft Preview: Packers hold 10 selections in 2020 Draft - Thumbnail Image

NFL Draft Preview: Packers hold 10 selections in 2020 Draft

Going in, you'd have to think that the Packers probably won't be spending their first or second selections on an edge rusher, even with the loss of Kyler Fackrell. However, there's plenty of chances late in the Draft for the Packers to pick up a developmental/rotation player, so we will focus our work at the top end of the Draft on inside linebacker.

One prospect who would fit the Packers' scheme well, who absolutely will not be available to them as late as they are drafting, is Isaiah Simmons of Clemson. He's a lock for the top ten, if not the top five, but can play anywhere on the field. So let's put aside any dream scenario where he falls to 30.

The two choices for the Packers at 30, should either be available, are LSU's Patrick Queen and Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray. Both should be starters this season for whoever drafts them. Queen skews more towards coverage linebacker than Murray, but both possess excellent awareness and a blend of coverage and tackling ability to suit what the Packers would need at inside 'backer. Queen slots in higher in most mock drafts, but Murray is a popular pick to the Pack as the Draft approaches. Either way, if the Packers grab either player, they are likely the long-term starter at a spot that has question marks. Oren Burks has had injury issues for two years, while Christian Kirksey is trying to bounce back from injury issues of his own after his run in Cleveland ended.

It's a clear position of need, so if the Packers go elsewhere (like receiver) in the first round, they'll have to target versatile athletes who can play more than one role in the middle rounds. That means run-stuffing linebackers like Ohio State's Malik Harrison and Texas Tech's Jordan Brooks are going to be tough choices in the second or third round, as each has an ability to help against the run but not as much against the pass. If the Packers need that rock in the middle, either would be fine, but they'd be off the field on third downs, most likely. In the second- to third-round range for prospects is Oregon's Troy Dye, who is a project player but can adapt and fill in to whatever role the Packers would ask of him based on length and athleticism. Dye was productive in all four years at Oregon, and of the three linebackers suited for the inside at this stage of the Draft, appears to be the best fit for Green Bay based on his cover abilities and tackling prowess.

Partly because inside linebacker has become a little more devalued in the NFL, but partly too because no one player can fit any scheme for the most part, there are around two dozen linebackers that could be considered with a Day 3 pick. Some of the linebackers that could step in and contribute either on special teams or as a spot starter include California's Evan Weaver (potential special teams ace), Appalachian State's Akeem Davis-Gaither (coverage), Wake Forest's Justin Strnad (balance), and Purdue's Markus Bailey (IQ/tackling). Players that probably will drop due to injury or off-field concerns are Mississippi State's Willie Gay, Jr. and Utah State's David Woodward, but both are athletic and if they can stay on the field would be an interesting late-round selection. And, raw athletes to develop late would include Colorado's Davion Taylor (third-fastest 40 time at the NFL Combine among linebackers at 4.49). Otherwise, there's a good mix of potential special teams and depth pieces that don't address the need that the Packers have.

If the Packers pick up a linebacker, look for them to do it earlier rather than later.

On the other side of the position, edge rusher probably won't be a consideration in the first or second rounds for the Packers, as they have invested heavily there. Two big contracts for the Smiths as well as the #12 overall pick last year on Rashan Gary means that Green Bay isn't looking for plug-and-play, but the Packers could use a developmental or rotation piece later in the Draft. So let's leave off for the purposes of this preview projected first-round picks Chase Young, and K'Lavon Chaisson, and borderline first-round picks like Yetur Gross-Matos and A.J. Epenesa.

In the pool of edge rushers is Wisconsin's Zack Baun, an intriguing prospect for the Packers and a player who occasionally gets mocked to Green Bay, although that might be hopeful optimism on the part of Wisconsin-based fans. Baun doesn't perfectly fit the niche of straight-up edge rusher, and his versatility is to the point where it almost has to be utilized to get the most out of his skillset. So there is something to seeing Baun staying in Wisconsin, in that he can contribute in multiple ways. On that front, it puts him in consideration for one of the Packers' top two choices, although chances are slim he's available at the end of round two.

There's a group of four terrific, versatile athletes all ticketed for the second and third round. Notre Dame's Julian Okwara, Michigan's Joshua Uche, and Alabama's Terrell Lewis are all excellent athletes for the edge that are part of a deep, talented crop of outside linebackers in this year's class. Boise State's Curtis Weaver also fits here, as like Baun, he'll need to move around a bit to find his value early on.

For consideration in the middle-to-late rounds in a loaded class of edge rushers are probably a dozen to 18 outside linebacker-types that fill needs either as pure pass rush specialists or combination 3-4 outside 'backers with run and pass abilities, and at that point, it's more about scheme fit than raw numbers. Big-school prospects like Alabama's Anfernee Jennings and Auburn's Nick Coe, and other Power-5 linebackers like Minnesota's Carter Coughlin, Michigan State's Kenny Willekes, and Syracuse's Alton Robinson, have a wide range of projections. Green Bay would have its pick starting in about the fourth round with whichever piece they needed to fill the space behind the Smiths and Gary on the outside.

Much like the Drafts of 2019, 2018, 2016, and 2012, Green Bay could again be looking to inside-outside with a higher pick and a lower pick to address some of the depth issues caused by the departure of veterans Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell. With 10 picks in this year's Draft, don't be surprised if the Packers yet again aggressively go after solutions at the linebacker positions in this year's Draft.

The NFL Draft is April 23-25 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Teams will conduct their Draft selections remotely.

Photo: Getty Images (Kenneth Murrah)

NFL Draft Preview: Packers face big decisions at running back - Thumbnail Image

NFL Draft Preview: Packers face big decisions at running back

NFL Draft Preview: Defensive backs plentiful in middle rounds - Thumbnail Image

NFL Draft Preview: Defensive backs plentiful in middle rounds

NFL Draft Preview: Quarterback an intriguing option for Packers - Thumbnail Image

NFL Draft Preview: Quarterback an intriguing option for Packers

NFL Draft Preview: Packers likely not seeking specialists in 2020 - Thumbnail Image

NFL Draft Preview: Packers likely not seeking specialists in 2020

Tulane v Oklahoma

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content